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In March 2019, Xiye Bastida led hundreds of her classmates in New York City in the first-ever global youth strike for climate justice. Since then, Bastida has become a leading voice in the youth climate justice movement in the United States and beyond, energizing and empowering youth to speak out to save the planet. Drawing on her Indigenous heritage as part of the Otomi-Toltec Peoples from Mexico, today, Bastida continues to advocate for restoring Earth’s balance and making environmentalism a way of life.
Danni Washington is a world-renowned television host and science communicator, and the first African-American woman to host a nationally broadcast syndicated science television series. Danni is presently the host of The Genius Generation podcast from Seeker and TRAX from PRX, which spotlights young people behind an incredible invention, entrepreneurial pursuit, or discovery using science. Washington attended the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science and earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science Biology. In 2008, Washington co-founded The Big Blue & You – a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and educating youth about marine conservation through the arts and media. She also served for eight years as a naturalist at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center.
Danni Washington Once upon a time, there was a girl who empowered youth across the globe to demand climate justice. Her name is Xiye.
When Xiye was young, a terrible drought gripped her hometown in Mexico.
Lakes dried up. Rivers and creeks turned into trickles. The crops in the fields withered and died.
The parched land ached for rain.
After two whole years of drought, storm clouds finally filled the sky. Thunder rumbled and lightning zigzagged across the dark horizon.
Rain washed over the land, and it “poured and poured.”
But this wasn’t an ordinary storm. There was so much rain, the streets of Xiye’s town became rivers. Shops and homes were destroyed. Fields filled with water. And this time…the crops drowned.
As part of the Otomi-Toltec Nation, a community of Indigenous people in Mexico, Xiye learned at a young age that if you take care of the Earth, the Earth will take care of you.
As 13-year-old Xiye watched the destruction around her, she realized something had gone terribly wrong. And Xiye was determined to do something about it.
Washington I’m Danni Washington. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
A fairy tale podcast about the rebel women who inspire us.
This week: The young climate activist, Xiye Bastida.
Washington When Xiye was young, her family would sometimes pack lunches and head out into the highlands to eat beside a glimmering lake. All around them, the sun shone brightly, and the lake’s water reflected the sky’s white clouds like a mirror. In the distance, foothills and mountains nudged up along the horizon.
Xiye’s mom would take out the food they had packed and offer prayers of thanks.
“Thank you to Mother Earth for gifting us with air, water, and the places for our food to grow,” she would say, her voice gentle and calm. “Thank you to the hands who planted the seeds. Thank you to the hands who harvested the corn.”
Xiye would listen as her mom prayed, the soft breeze brushing at her hair and the sun warming her skin. Gratitude filled Xiye’s heart.
Xiye’s parents were both environmental activists, and they taught her a lot about caring for the Earth. Xiye’s father told her stories about the way things used to be, and she watched him as he spoke out about protecting the Earth. For example, Xiye learned that the river near her town used to be clean enough to bathe in. Her father had done just that when he was young! But now it was filled with so much muck and pollution that it stank. You could smell it for miles around.
Xiye learned from her family and her Otomi-Toltec community that the Earth gives us everything we need to live. And, in return, it’s our responsibility to protect the Earth.
As Xiye got older, caring for the trees, flowers, animals, air, and water—just as her parents, grandparents, and Indigenous community did—became as natural to Xiye as breathing.
But this wasn’t the case for everyone….
Washington In 2015 the drought that plagued Xiye’s hometown gave way to incredible rainstorms. She watched the floodwaters rise in her hometown and realized the world was deeply out of balance.
But she didn’t know what she could do about it. And besides, she was leaving.
The day after the floods began, Xiye, her parents, and her brother boarded a plane bound for the United States. Xiye’s father had a new job in New York City, and they had been planning to move for a while.
As the plane swooped into the air, rain pelted the windows, and Xiye stared down at the flooded lands.
What would become of her home? she wondered.
Xiye worried about the place they left behind in Mexico—about her friends and grandparents.
But she soon realized that the Earth wasn’t out of balance where she’d been…it was also out of balance where she was going.
In her new home in New York City, Xiye saw the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy—a storm that had slammed into the northeast coast three years before Xiye moved to the U.S.
It’s the same everywhere, she thought. And it’s getting worse.
But what could a teenager do?
Washington A few years later, in high school, Xiye figured out exactly how powerful a movement, led by young people could be. She joined the Environmental Club at her high school in New York City.
But as she attended their meetings after school, she felt disappointed and frustrated.
It seemed like all they talked about was recycling. Xiye knew it was good to recycle and use reusable shopping bags. But those choices alone wouldn’t bring back the Earth’s balance.
Once, when Xiye sat on a beach watching the ocean waves crash onto the shore, she began to cry. She knew the glaciers were melting, and scientists predicted that water would rise around the globe. She wondered if her children would ever be able to sit on a beach like this, look up at the stars, and listen to the waves’ ebb and flow.
She wondered what kind of world she was leaving for them—and what kind of world the older generations were leaving for her.
Xiye’s parents and grandparents had taught her that “taking care of Mother Earth is about every decision we make as a collective.” But people were ignoring the climate crisis…or the wrong decisions were being made.
The big climate problems that were causing droughts, floods, superstorms, polluted rivers, and melting glaciers—they were impossible for one individual to fix on their own. They required holding leaders accountable.
And they required working together to make change happen—both in New York and around the world.
So Xiye became a leader in her school’s Environmental Club. She talked with her classmates about her perspective as an Indigenous person on environmentalism, and about taking action as a group.
Soon, Xiye and her classmates were writing letters to politicians, advocating for environmental policy change, and speaking with legislators at the New York State capitol building in Albany.
And these grownups were paying attention!
Xiye and her classmates grew in their passion and their power to make change. And that’s when they heard about a group of environmental youth activists from across the world who were calling for the first-ever global youth strike for climate in March 2019.
One of the leaders of this group is Greta Thunberg. A Swedish girl who, in 2018, had started a solo protest for climate justice in front of her nation’s Parliament every Friday. The Fridays for Future movement grew out of Greta’s protests, and soon, kids in countries around the globe were skipping school on Fridays to demand that governments take action to protect the planet.
Xiye organized the global youth strike at her high school in Manhattan, spreading the word and energizing her classmates. Finally, when the day of the strike came, Xiye led 600 students as they walked out of her school. They marched along the city streets, where they were joined by thousands of students from schools all across New York City.
Shoulder-to-shoulder, they held their signs high and raised their voices as one.
“We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” they chanted.
And seeing so many other kids and teens gathered around her to fight for change, Xiye believed it must be true.
During these protests, Xiye would meet fellow environmental activists who were leaders in their own schools and communities. Together, they made plans for new marches and new demands. Soon, Xiye became one of the main organizers of the Fridays for Future movement in New York City and the United States!
Xiye’s life changed dramatically. She used to go to school, practice gymnastics, play guitar, and spend time with friends and family. But becoming an activist changed everything.
Every day, Xiye had several phone calls with organizers, media publications, and environmental groups. She was running from one meeting to the next. She spoke with legislators and city council members. And every Friday, she could be found “on strike” in front of the United Nations or City Hall.
When she wasn’t protesting or organizing, she worked on her homework late into the night. She gave up gymnastics and her other hobbies. She missed a lot of school—even though she loved to learn. And she slept for only four hours a night most nights!
Sometimes, when she woke up, she found herself crying from the stress of it all. Her brother told her he missed spending time with her. And her mother worried for her safety.
They were immigrants, after all, and had to apply for visas, or special paperwork, to stay in the United States.
Sometimes, Xiye’s mother worried that Xiye would be deported or denied her visa for being so outspoken.
But Xiye didn’t let fear stop her.
Instead, she set her sights on organizing an even bigger protest!
Following the success of the March 2019 strike, youth activists from around the world called for another global strike on September 20, 2019. But this time, the organizers invited older generations to join them, too!
Xiye worked all summer on the event. There would be a week full of protests and actions related to protecting and restoring the planet.
Finally, the day arrived.
It was warm, and sunny on September 20, 2019. 300,000 people joined Xiye on the streets of New York City. Xiye led marches and chants, shouting encouragement through her megaphone.
Across the United States…and the globe, protestors demanded that world leaders listen to them and pay attention—and to do something about the climate crisis.
As Xiye looked around at all the people who had gathered with them, her heart soared.
When she had seen the destruction in her hometown from drought and floods, she didn’t know what a teenager could do about it.
And now, here she was, on the frontlines of a growing movement for climate justice. Working to bring balance back to the Earth. Showing the world that change is possible.
All you need is hope—and action.